Nuts and Bolts of a DUI – “Intoxicated”

October 22, 2019
man holding an open bottle with hand on his face, pulled over by the police

Drunk driving is taken very seriously in Virginia courts. Although first and second offenses are Class 1 Misdemeanors, a conviction for a third or subsequent offense is a Class 6 Felony. Likewise, it is important to know what exactly makes up a DUI charge.

Most people will instinctively associate a DUI with driving while your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is 0.08 or above. However, the 0.08 BAC limit is only one way of proving the offense. After all, people have been found guilty of DUI without having done any form of chemical testing to detect the concentration of intoxicants in their body.

The most basic precept of a DUI lies in the name of the offense itself. In order to prove that someone committed the offense of DUI, a prosecutor must show that the person was driving or operating a motor vehicle and that they were intoxicated. The 0.08 BAC limit is merely an avenue toward proving that the individual in question was “intoxicated.” This also applies to all of the other inferable intoxicant concentration limits enumerated in Virginia Code 18.2-266 governing DUI offenses. You will notice that only alcohol and certain other drugs are enumerated here. It begs the question: what about all other intoxicants?

Apart from the statutory concentration limits, a prosecutor can prove to a fact-finder that a person is intoxicated if the available evidence indicates that they meet the statutory definition of “intoxicated.” The legal definition under of “intoxicated” is found in Virginia Code 4.1-100. It is a condition where a person has consumed enough self-administered intoxicants “to observably affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior.” In other words, if evidence shows that a person was driving or operating a motor vehicle and they had perceivable conditions aligning with the definition of intoxication, that person could be DUI.

So, if there are so many different ways to prove someone is DUI, why bother hiring an attorney to fight these charges? As with all matters of the law, it is not that straightforward. First, just like any criminal offense, you enjoy the protections guaranteed to you by the United States Constitution. If a law enforcement officer violated those protections, it could result in limiting or excluding evidence brought against you or could even dispose of the case entirely. Additionally, DUI is far more fact-intensive and technical than the average person may realize. Timing, reliability of chemical testing, legal inferences, performance of field sobriety tests, and aggravating factors are just a few considerations that may arise in a given DUI case.

The bottom line is that DUI is a serious offense and hiring a qualified attorney is imperative. As you can see from our DUI penalty chart, there is simply too much at stake and you deserve representation that will observe all angles in search of the best possible result.